Did you know that your cell phone is keeping war-rape alive in the DR Congo?
Yep. You read it right.
You’re probably attached to the contraption: texting, checking your emails, listening to music, gaming, saving memos, setting up an alarm, taking pictures... or whatever else it is that you need your phone for.
You may have found yourself marvelling at technology and its advancements. You might think it is super awesome that you can reduce your thoughts to words and send them blitzing across to a friend somewhere else in the world. Which is all very well, really – for technology is good, and all that stuff.
But just pausing a moment, have you wondered what makes these phones what they are? They contain a metallic ore that has heat resistant properties among other things that make them useful components in cell phone manufacture. If it wasn’t for this mineral, which is called coltan, you’d probably be carrying heated contraptions in your hands for posterity.
Before you roll your eyes and decide to give this a pass, stick with me. This is going somewhere.
Coltan comes from the DR Congo. And it isn’t just mined like minerals are mined in a peaceful place. In the Congo, coltan is mined by putting women through torture, sexual violence and rape. Brutal and harsh killings continue thriving, as villages, rebel groups, companies and the government lock horns for a giant share in the mineral wealth. The government used the chaotic backdrop of war and violence to institutionalize corruption and money-making through the trade in rare minerals. Soon titled conflict minerals, the monetary revenues that the trade in them generated fuelled the continuance of war and sexual violence. Corporate houses, high ranking military officers, businessmen and governments effectively played a role in backing the rebellious groups, to continue the state of war, so as to make business easy. The DR Congo is a treasure trove of minerals – with cobalt, coltan, copper, diamonds, gold, tin and tungsten available in abundance. Imagine how much more war and sexual violence will thrive, and for how much longer, just for the sake of minerals.
Why would it thrive, you may ask.
Well. Because of the huge customer base for cell phones that includes you.
As long as there is demand, there is supply. And as long as there is supply, the prevailing practice will continue. A warlord, a rebel, a company or even a government that is making piles of money isn’t necessarily going to bother brokering peace when war is his breadwinner. They make plenty and more with a war going on, with territory, power and money in abundance under their control. And sexual violence, there, is a painful feature.
You can shrug this post off and say “Ah no big deal. I can’t live without my cell phone.”
But just think for a moment, can you?
What hope do we have if the world just believes that rape is ‘no big deal’? What use is any rhetoric, if everyone just stands and watches? Inaction, apathy and simply turning a deaf ear actually encourage the perpetration of such evil. A girl of your age in Congo would have faced harsher reality than you could possibly fathom. A woman of your age in Congo would be living a life far, far away from what’s ‘normal’ for you.
What you CAN do, is to continue using a cell phone, but one that does not source coltan from the DR Congo. Coltan is available with as much abundance in Australia, Brazil, Canada with possible avenues opening up in Greenland. There are companies and brands that use conflict minerals. There are those that do not. Do your research, and be on the right side of the fence.
By Kirthi Gita Jayakumar